'Elvis: R&B'

- CD review -

EIN's Piers Beagley took time out from his overseas holiday to delve indside the aural delights of one of the latest Elvis releases from Sony BMG.

Another in BMG's Elvis "Genre" series, this time focussing on Elvis' personal play list - R&B and Blues classics.

Described as "Elvis' Greatest R&B Hits" - and once again with upgraded audio - this has a surprising appeal.

Another "Genre" CD and, to be honest, on an initial listen I was mighty disappointed. What I was hoping for was the long-awaited essential "Elvis Blues" CD. What I got seemed to be a mish-mash selection of tracks that didn't fulfil the promise.

Luckily, fellow Elvis fan Lyle Ray put me right, pointing out that that this CD isn't only about 'The Blues' but more importantly it's Elvis influences and Rhythm & Blues. Lyle was so right, and with fresh ears I discovered the true delights of this new selection.

In fact, as Micheal Hill concisely explains on the sleeve notes..
Consider this collection Elvis Presley's personal play list - R&B and blues classics that became an essential part of Elvis's lifelong repertoire because he connected so powerfully with them as a listener, not just as a performer. Some of these songs, like Mississippi native Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's original version of "That's All Right." or blues shouter Wynonie Harris's chart-topping rendition of Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight," were R&B hits that Elvis had discovered listening to the radio as a boy. He not only memorized these numbers, he internalized them - the lyrics, chords and very attitude got all shook up with his own unique musical DNA.

From the plaintive wail of Elvis’ “Wellllll.. I heard the news, there’s a good rockin’ tonight” - a corner-stone of the development of Rock’n’Roll from R&B - ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ is a mighty start. Demonstrating Elvis’ influences, as well as his own personal interpretation, this is the perfect introduction to Elvis ‘R&B’.

In fact I was surprised that it wasn’t until track 4 and ‘Lawdy, Miss Clawdy’ that one of my ‘Essential Elvis Blues’ tracks was featured (see below). As author Paul Simpson noted, “A world without Elvis’ version of Lawdy, Miss Clawdy is not a world that many of us would care to contemplate.”

But for me it was ‘My Baby Left Me’ that jumped right out of this CD and got me all shook up – and it fits perfectly here. Maybe it was a little too hidden amongst the wealth of fabulous treasures on the ‘Elvis Presley’ FTD release, but this is such a FANTASTIC and under-represented Elvis classic. Suddenly it becomes a firm favorite once again. Surely this should have been on ‘2 nd To None’? Hell, it didn’t even feature on the 3 CD ‘Hitstory’! Listen out for Bill Black’s great double-bass lines and Scotty Moore’s sensational guitar break. While ‘My Baby Left Me’ is in the same mold of the earlier Arthur Crudup composition ‘That’s All Right’, the 1956 RCA audio mix really burns with Scotty’s guitar sound with a cutting edge, as well as Elvis’ vocal track being wonderfully prominent. Check out the glorious echo on the guitar solo which is seemingly effortless yet chugs along like an unstoppable locomotive. At the end, and punching rhythmically, Elvis’ girl leaves, “My baby left me. . . and never said a word” – and she’s gone, fading out like that mystery train.

‘So Glad You’re Mine’ is another sensational fifties song that needs its General Public profile raised and here it introduces some cool piano into Elvis’ blues and the band’s sound. Similarly Elvis adds his own DNA to Ray Charles’ ‘I Got A Woman’, as well as ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll.’

This R&B CD is the perfect context for the magnificent ‘When It Rains It Really Pours’, recorded in 1957 but originally not released until the barrel-scraping ‘Elvis For Everyone’ LP in 1965. Here Elvis revisited his late 1955 Sun Studio attempt and deliciously wraps up the whole story of burning lust and pain in under 2 minutes! Scotty Moore’s guitar solo is an astounding mess, but is beautifully saved as it slides back into the verse. (This is similar to his solo in Elvis’ single ‘Too Much’ in being impossible to repeat). This track was another great re-discovery for me as this was the first time ever (having known this song for over 30 years) that I noticed that Elvis’ final statement in the lyric is actually in the past tense, - “When it Rained, It Really Poured” - so maybe he was over his ‘troubles, troubles, troubles’ after all? Great stuff.

Of course there is no need to examine every track as all of them should be familiar to most Elvis fans. However occasionally Elvis classics do slip by unnoticed even for the keenest of fans, and I do know of a few who have discovered ‘Stranger In My Own Home Town’ for the first time via this CD. After all this is the point of these compilations - to help fans and the G.P discover unknown Elvis delights.

Once again an opportunity is wasted since there is no linking promotion to other ‘Classic’ Elvis albums that fans could be suggested to further investigate like ‘From Elvis In Memphis’, ‘Elvis Is Back’ etc etc.

(Right; A BMG Japan 2001 release, also focussing on Elvis R&B)

The audio is once again remastered by Vic Anesini who nicely matches the sound with the songs already remastered via Kevan Budd’s fine work. (And yes, ‘Reconsider Baby’ is Sebastian Jeansson’s new FTD 'Elvis Is Back' “1,2,3” version). It is good to hear tracks like ‘Stranger in My Own HomeTown’ and ‘Pledging My Love’ sounding much clearer than on their last CD releases. This is an achievement in itself as the original Master Tapes of these songs in particular were heavily overdubbed by Chips Moman & Felton Jarvis.

Elvis’ sixties period is represented by 8 fabulous tracks, ‘I Feel So Bad’, ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ etc but with the obvious programming oddity being that placing of ‘Big Boss Man’ before ‘Reconsider Baby’. Ernst/Roger must have had their own reasons for this but in my opinion they do play better when swapped around. But this hardly matters since if you didn’t buy the FTD ‘Elvis Is Back’ you are going to love the remastered version of ‘Reconsider Baby’, a real treat on a mid-price CD.

‘Stranger In My Own Home Town’ is wonderful to have on a compile CD, but maybe the undubbed version might have worked better. And perhaps the well-known ‘That’s All Right’ could have been dropped for another later song like ‘Clean Up Your Own Backyard’ or ‘After Loving You.’

Similarly it’s a shame that ‘Pledging My Love’ (the only featured 70’s song) is the way-too-short overdubbed single Master. Elvis’ raw & simpler version from the Jungle Room Sessions is far more personal and surely reflects his role as both a listener and an interpreter far better than Felton Jarvis’ overdubbed edit. At the session Elvis’ passion & feeling for this great oldie grabs hold after the original fade out, when he hums and sings along to the guitar solos. The band isn’t quite sure when to stop and it is Elvis that drives them along. In fact ‘Pledging My Love’ could have been released here as a new edit since there is a good fade-out spot, just after Elvis’ “Yep” (at 04.40) which would have been a great end point for this fine CD.

As with all these genre CDs I still believe the cover design to be way too murky and destined for the back of the record store shelves, which is a real shame.

But let's leave the final words to Elvis and Jerry Leiber.
.. Songwriter Jerry Leiber once recalled how passionate Elvis performed in the studio when he tackled his and Mike Stoller's R&B-based material: "With Elvis, no direction was needed... once the rhythm section started to cook, he would just start singing. And the man never made a bad take.. he was like an Olympic champion. He could sing all day."
Elvis himself, back in early, less guarded days, had famously confessed, "It's like your whole body gets goose bumps. It's like a surge of electricity going through you. It's almost like making love but it's even stronger than that. Sometimes I think my heart is going to explode."

Verdict: Another superior mid-price ‘Genre’ compilation that will hopefully lead the General Public and fans alike to new Elvis delights. Sadly at 54 minutes it runs a little too short, but with songs like ‘A Mess Of Blues,’ ‘Down In The Alley, ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Trying’ To Get To You’ how can you go wrong? Of course these CDs are not meant for hard-core fans, who will all have their own minor complaints & suggestions, but with the upgraded audio and fine track selection it is well worth a listen. Even an old groupie like me can rediscover some new delights!

EIN Note - Even with this Elvis R&B CD release a definitive ‘Essential Elvis Blues’ is still the fundemental compilation that Elvis’ musical legacy badly lacks.

(With thanks to Lyle Ray for his inspiration)

Elvis: R&B
Released. August 2006.
BMG - 82876857502.

1. Good Rockin' Tonight
2. That's All Right
3. Baby, Let's Play House
4. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy 
5. My Baby Left Me
6. So Glad You're Mine
7. I Got A Woman
8. Shake, Rattle And Roll
9. When It Rains, It Really Pours
10. Trying To Get To You
11. Mystery Train
12. Trouble
13. Big Boss Man
14. Reconsider Baby
15. I Feel So Bad
16. Hi-Heel Sneakers
17. Down In The Alley
18. A Mess Of Blues
19. Stranger In My Own Home Town
20. Pledging My Love

Review by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, October 2006

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Piers' personal selection, the "Essential ELVIS BLUES" CD.

1. Reconsider Baby (FTD, "1,2,3" intro version)
2. One Night of Sin
3. I Feel So Bad
4. Milkcow Blues Boogie
5. Lawdy Miss Clawdy
6. My Baby's Gone
7. Like a Baby
8. Down In The Alley
9. Give Me The Right (Tk.1)
10. Trying To Get To You
11. It Feels So Right
12. New Orleans   - (I'm never 100% sure of this one, somedays yes, somedays no)
13. Santa Claus Is Back In Town
14. So Glad You're Mine
15. High Heel Sneakers (version from So High FTD)
16. Big Boss Man
17. Baby What You Want Me To Do
18. When it Rains it Really Pours
19. Mess of Blues
20. After Loving You
21. Clean Up Your own Backyard (undubbed)
22. Power Of My Love
23. My Babe
24. Steamroller Blues
25. Stranger In My Own Home town
26. Merry Christmas Baby

Go here for EIN's Spotlight on "Elvis sings the "blues" - the definitive 2CD set.

Click here for EIN's Spotlight on - How Elvis was influenced by "The Blues"

Click here for Genre CD review of 'Elvis: Live'

Click here for Genre CD review of 'Elvis: Rock'

Click here for Genre CD review of 'Elvis: Country'

Click here for Genre CD review of 'Elvis: Inspirational'

Click here for CD review of 'Elvis IS Back' FTD'

Click here for CD review of 'Elvis At Sun'

Click here for CD review of the FTD deluxe 'Elvis Presley' release



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